Freedom of the Seas Day Five

Ch-ch-ch-Changes.  Everything changes; Seasons change, the weather can change, we change our minds and on and on.  Royal Caribbean also changes; service, amenities, staff and on and on.  Especially during these “tough economic times” it seems every cruise line has had to tighten their belt.  The goal is to make it as seamless as possible so that it goes virtually unnoticed.

Tracking cruise passengers’ buying patterns began in 1980 as the cruise industry “took off.”    Today, only a small segment of the traveling public has taken a cruise, with a larger percentage indicating that they planned to take a cruise in the near future.   In my opinion, the cruise lines are counting on thousands of newbie cruisers to fill their ships; these passengers won’t miss what they don’t already know.  For Royal Caribbean to make the changes that I’ve noticed on this cruise is certainly well understood and would certainly not detract from a fabulous cruise experience.  Unless you are a Royal Caribbean-a-holic and know by heart every nuance, every menu item and every inch of their ships, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

That said, Crown & Anchor members of at least Platinum level (five or more Royal Caribbean cruises under your belt) should prepare yourselves for your next Royal Caribbean cruise.  You’ll have no surprises or disappointments if you know what to expect and understand why these changes took place.

1. Pool Towel Policy.  No more old gold-colored pool towels placed in your stateroom.  Here’s how it works: to get your towel, you must queue up at the Pool Towel Station at the main pool.  Give the attendant your SeaPass card and tell him how many towels you would like to use.  Every towel that you borrow must be returned to the Pool Towel Station by 8PM on the last night of the cruise or you will be charged $20 per towel.  I rented two towels and I have kept them for the entire trip, thus avoiding waiting in line each day.  The new towels are more plush and are a nautical navy and white with an emblazoned Royal Caribbean logo on it.  I think that the old gold towels made their way into thousands of suitcases over the years.  So many in fact, that when I was out at the pool, a man three chairs down from me was using the old Royal Caribbean towel.  If they are not available any more…where did he get this one…hmmm?  It’s a bit inconvenient at first to get used to this new system, but I can definitely see why it was done.

2. Cranberry Juice at breakfast is additional cost. What!? On the plus side, they have reinstated free lemonade at lunch at the Windjammer Buffet.

3. A premium steak in the dining room is $14.95. For a few dollars more why not just have a cozier dinner at the specialty steak house, Chops?

4. The wine sommelier and bar waiters are gone from the dining room. Your waiter has the additional responsibility of wine steward and bar waiter.  Be patient.

5. So far, Day 5, there have been no chocolates left on the pillow at turn-down.  I never ate them anyway, but they are a hallmark of cruising.  (Update: no more chocolates)

6. Want room service at night? Better order it before midnight or you will be charged $3.95 service fee.  (Other cruise lines are already charging this fee.)

7. Do you ever receive a bottle of wine in your stateroom as a gift from someone?  If you do and you bring it to the dining room, there is a $13.95 corkage fee.  Tell your friends/travel agent/note to self to have the bottle sent directly to the dining room. (Reason for this: too many bottles of wine smuggled onboard=lost revenue)

8. Johnny Rocket’s service fee has increased from $3.95 to $4.95.  Understandable; inflation.

9. No bathroom amenities such as a shower cap, mouthwash, cotton balls or sewing kit.  I had to request shampoo/conditioner/body lotion.

10.  Day 5 and still no Diamond/Diamond Plus afternoon tea time snacks.  As if I need more food anyway.  But the chocolate-covered strawberries were a nice touch.

11.  Diamond/Diamond Plus Value Booklet does not include the free 8”x10” professional photograph.  An expensive give-away, but totally appreciated.

Here’s what has not changed: The quality of the product itself.  The staff and crew are amazing friendly, helpful and always smiling.  The food in the dining room has improved and was better than I expected.  Portions were smaller but does anyone ever go hungry on a cruise?  With so much wasted food that is left on guests’ plates, I’m happy to find smaller portions.  You can always ask your waiter for more. The ship’s interior appears exceptionally clean. And, finally, there are ample hand sanitizers at the entrance to each dining venue as well as in the casino.

Why did I tell you about all of these changes? Cruise Maven’s Law: Know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed.  Everyone is cutting costs where they can and Royal Caribbean is no different from other cruise lines in that respect.  Eliminate the source of lost revenue and strive for excellence in what you have to work with after the fact.

In my opinion, Royal Caribbean still delivers the “WOW.”

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